Chapter Fifteen - Discovery
Through the frame of the tall windows, Los Angeles sprawled vast and wide. From the towering glass and chrome of the downtown skyscrapers to the silent shadows of the Hollywood Hills beyond, the cityscape, from the high vantage point of the Wolfram and Hart building, was nothing less than breathtaking. As night fell and the light faded through soft golds to dark, rich blues, it became a dazzling vista of a million tiny lights shining like a bright galaxy of multi-coloured neon against the dark universe beyond.
It drew the eye as surely as a masterpiece by any Grand Master, yet Wesley spared the sight not even a glance. He sat with his back to the spectacular view, the large book in front of him absorbing all his attention and he was lost to the world, deep in the labyrinth of study. As he’d read, the afternoon had slipped into the evening unnoticed, the ambient lighting of the office taking up the slack as the sun sank through the filmy ozone haze and dipped beneath the horizon to end another day. The rest of the world had gone about its usual Saturday business, filling the malls and the coffee shops with idle chat and the mundane duties of small lives, before returning home to families and loved ones, or the cold company of the TV. Now, after the sun had gone to shine on other climes, the city belonged to the night people, the clubbers, the lovers and the pimps; those on whom the darkness preyed.
The passing of days meant little to Wesley anymore and every day was like any other. The evil that lurked in the shadows or wove webs of influence through business and politics, never took a day off and neither did he. He was happy enough. He didn’t need anything more than he already had at Wolfram and Hart; his friends, his books and his gun, for even though most of his staff had gone for the weekend to enjoy the sunshine - or not as the case may be – there were still mysteries to solve, prophesies to decipher and demons to kill.
Turning a heavy vellum page, he ran his hand gently over the cracked, aged skin, which creaked dryly as it was pressed flat against the previous sheet. In many areas the ink had faded to barely a smudge or the pages had crumbled close to the sides, creating ragged edges that flaked at the touch, archaic knowledge eroding away into nothing like a chalky shoreline. Morumdi, the author of the work, had been a madman, or so it had been believed for centuries, frantically scrawling pages and pages of this seemingly obscure, rambling, nonsense for days on end without rest or sustenance, until he’d died just as the last line was complete. More likely, Wesley guessed, was that he’d been a priestly savant, controlled and driven to exhaustion by a force unseen as it compelled him to write. His script was tiny, dotted and rough, like a hellish prehistoric Braille; and it wound in tight, protean paragraphs with no margins, or became incorporated into random illustrations of unhinged whimsy; stylised sketches of tormented beasts or twisted satanic flora.
As far as Wesley could make out from the volume and the bizarre, illogical language it was written in, the sigils they’d found in the room where they had discovered Spike’s unconscious body meant much more than he’d understood from his less-informed translation prior to the acquisition of this book. While it was true that the sigils had indicated the First’s plans to take revenge on the Slayer, there were also symbols that hadn’t made sense in that context and were only now divulging their meanings. It was clear from translating the older symbols from the walls, that Mr Morrow’s basement had been a factory producing Harbingers to serve the First Evil. The importer’s employees had not been eaten, as had been previously suspected, but had been killed and reanimated, corrupted into tortured versions of themselves; skin flayed, eyes ripped out and sewn shut, branded like cattle herded to serve the entity’s will. They had seized upon the opportunity to free their unholy master, but once they had achieved that objective they’d vacated the basement within hours.
Wesley was pretty sure that they wouldn’t be back. He pushed the book aside, satisfied with his conclusions, and started to gather his notes together in readiness to send down to the typing pool. He would finish the report later, after some rest. He stood up and flipped the file into his Out Tray. Normally he would encourage Fred to leave her lab long enough get something to eat, but she was out with Angel and Gunn, assisting them at the important Demonic Law conference. He would be dining alone tonight.
He glanced up to see Eve lingering in the doorway. “Can I help you?”
“Am I interrupting?” she asked, striding purposefully into the office.
He looked down at his stack of work and considered making an excuse. “Would it make a difference?”
She smiled humourlessly and got straight to business, giving the thin file in her hand a little wave. “I just brought these invoices for you to sign off. More books, I see.”
“The Codex Tempus Mormundi is a valuable asset to my work here,” he told her, gesturing towards the book in front of him. “The nuances of the work cannot be fully represented without the texture and feel of the original text to shed light on its meaning. The templates are wonderful things, but they cannot replicate everything.”
Eve nodded as she approached his desk and took a seat opposite him, but as she crossed her legs primly it was clear that she was really not interested. “I hope it sheds plenty of light on our First Evil problem, because our seers have reported back with some serious concerns for this dimension.”
Wesley looked up at her, curious. “So you’re not here to discuss the Departmental Budget. I thought the invoices could wait until Monday. Do The Senior Partner’s have you working overtime?”
Eve pursed her lips unhappily, ignoring the question. “They think you’ve sent the First right where it wants to be.”
“You sent Spike to England.” She leaned forward and placed a file before him. “This contains the reports on what the seers have foreseen. They saw Spike try to open re-open the Deeper Well.”
Wesley thought for a moment. The name was familiar, but he couldn’t recall its significance. “The Deeper Well?”
“It’s a burial ground for the oldest demons, the ones that roamed the earth before people. The Old Ones.”
“The Old Ones?” He eased back into his chair. “But they were driven out…”
“Only the ones that survived their wars, and they warred all the time. They lived for it. When those that remained left this dimension, the sarcophagi of the dead were cast into the Deeper Well to be forgotten. There, they have been watched over – guarded – ever since, but this is where we have a problem. These demons don’t die as we do and they can be awoken.”
Wesley mulled that over. “And the First wants to set these demons free again? To send us back to its Demon Age?”
“The First pre-dates them, but it would welcome a second Demon Age. If it opened the Well, what it could unleash…” Eve gave a dramatic little shiver.
“I see, but what does this have to do with Spike? He went to warn Buffy,” he said sceptically.
“The seers we quite adamant it was Spike they saw. You made great efforts to make him solid again, but what if you were wrong, and the First was never split from Spike at all?”
That did surprise him. He brushed a hand idly over his stubble. “You mean Spike is the First?”
Eve nodded her agreement. “You got it, Jack. One body. Two beings. And here’s the rub. A Slayer is the sacrifice required to open the Well. A Slayer sacrificed on one of the quarter days.”
“And the equinox is next week…” Wesley trailed off as he thought through all the possibilities and consequences. He looked at Eve again, at her confident and open posture. She believed what she was suggesting was true, even if it contradicted what they had already thought had happened to Spike. “Oh, dear. Do the Senior Partner’s have anything else to say?”
“They want to see an end to this problem. And quickly.” Eve stood up and smoothed down her expensive skirt. “I suggest you find a way to stop the First as soon as possible.”
Wesley frowned, trying to think of what they would be able to do. “That sounds like a very good idea.”
“Good.” She turned to leave, but as she reached the door, she turned back to him. “Have you finished translating those sigils yet?” she asked. “We need to invoice Mr Morrow by month end.”
“In the context of the information you’ve just given me, I think his building will be safe for awhile, yes.”
Angel had a headache; a demon-induced, thumping migraine that just wouldn’t stop.
Over the last few hours, he’d confirmed something that he’d suspected all along, that no human being could be as frustrating, maddening, stubborn, petty or greedy as the average demon. Mediation was often futile; disputes lasted for centuries and bitter vendettas spanned dimensions and time, all tied up together in a Gordian knot of complicated litigation. And always Wolfram and Hart were there at the worst end of all the squabbling. No wonder their profit margin was so high.
As he shook yet another scaly hand and uttered the appropriate responses, he wondered how he’d managed to end up here, manning the Wolfram and Hart stand at a prestigious – and crowded - Demon Law conference; it didn’t feel much like helping the helpless anymore. The day had gone well, all things considered; deaths had been kept to a minimum and no one had triggered an apocalypse yet – despite the best efforts of a few of the delegates. His speech earlier in the auditorium had been received with a wary, arctic reception, but there had been much less heckling than he’d been expecting.
“Keep smiling,” Fred whispered through a fixed perky smile as she nudged him sharply in the side, simultaneously shoving a leaflet into the obsidian claw of a small Paxi demon.
Angel grimaced in response, but before he could say anything, she was pulled away by the tide of the crowd, out of earshot, as the swell of bodies moved past, clearing a little island of space around him for the first time in hours. He took the opportunity and shrank further into the depths of the stand to escape.
From the shadows he could watch as Gunn worked the crowd as if born to it. He was currently trying to cool the tempers of a mated trio of albino humanoids, who looked like they were heading for divorce, judging by the hateful looks they’d been exchanging. He placated them with a few words and offered them his business card. They started to twitter something incomprehensible amongst themselves. At a nod they agreed to whatever Gunn had offered and snatched the card from his hand, their eyes darting between their partners anxiously before a greenish blush came to their skins. They moved away looking satisfied and amorous, and Gunn turned his broad smile onto the next in line. He seemed in his element; the new slick lawyer-upgrade helping him schmooze even the most obdurate client down from threats of bodily harm to plain uneasy suspicion. Yet for all Gunn’s efforts, Angel didn’t believe they were ever going to win over many of the more obstinate doubters.
He turned to see who had addressed him. A tall demon ducked its head, trying to get under the covered area of the stand without entangling its short horns in the coarse canvas, yet they still scraped along the fabric as it walked. When it reached Angel’s side, it stood, looming, looking down at him from about a foot or two above the crown of his head. Angel looked up at it, nervously. Its greyish, hairless skin was stretched tautly over a thin, bony skull that appeared oddly triangular, as it tapered from his wide brow to a narrow pointed jaw, which held a dour, displeased expression. Its large, dark, fathomless eyes fixed Angel with a hard penetrating stare.
“I… was… hoping… to… catch… you,” the demon said very slowly in a deep, funereal voice that Christopher Lee would have killed for. The demon wasn’t shouting, but nonetheless its speech cut cleanly through the loud chatter in the conference hall. It shook Angel’s hand, his long elegant fingers winding round Angel’s in a crushing, enveloping grip of which they seemed too delicate to be capable.
“Huh. Excuse me. I er… didn’t get your name...” Angel said, looking for a way to escape that withering gaze.
“Mr… Morrow. You… were… investigating… the… basement… of… my… building. I… am… very… concerned… as… you… have… told… me… nothing… of… your… progress.”
“I have my best team working on that right now…”
“I… cannot… afford… to… lose… any… more… of… my… people, Mr… Angel,” Mr Morrow warned. “I… am… paying… you… good… money… to… stop… what… is… happening… to… them.”
Angel nodded, distinctly uncomfortable. He rubbed his head; the headache was getting worse. “I assure you…”
“Angel, I need a word,” said a soft English voice from behind him. Wesley had slipped onto the stand unseen, and now stood at Angel’s shoulder.
Angel spared him a brief glance and whispered aside, “This isn’t the best time, Wes.”
Mr Morrow’s hand tightened slowly and Angel tried to tug his own loose, yet the demon held on. “You… will… tell… me… these… vermin… have… been… cleared… from… my… basement… by… Monday… or…”
Wesley stepped forward and raised a calming hand. “If I may interrupt, Mr Morrow. We have good evidence that the Harbinger’s are gone for good.”
“You… are… sure?” Mr Morrow eased the pressure on Angel’s hand, but still did not let go.
“From the sigils remaining after their rituals were completed, we have deduced that they will not be returning. You will be invoiced on Monday.”
With his ire suitably curtailed, Mr Morrow released Angel’s hand. “Very… good. I… shall… not… expect… to… see… them… again. Good… evening.”
Angel sighed, watching as Mr Morrow left and was absorbed back into the rabble, gliding through them glacially with his with his eyes scanning the hall far above the tallest heads. “Thanks, Wes.”
“Don’t mention it. Angel, I have some urgent news that won’t wait. It’s about Spike… and Buffy.”
A knot twisted unexpectedly in Angel’s gut. He was sure that whatever Wesley was about to say, he didn’t want to hear it. “Damn it! I knew the scheming little…”
“I can’t let him out of my sight for a second without him moving in on her…”
“Angel! It’s not that.” Wesley moved aside as another demon, a vampire in a sharp suit, muscled past him and shook Angel’s hand.
Angel muttered a few pleasantries and the vampire left satisfied. “Sorry, Wes. You were saying?”
“I think we had better go somewhere a little more private,” Wesley agreed. “Perhaps Fred should come too.”
The small room they found, away from the bustle of the main hall, was starkly bare. The walls were painted neutrally in a regulation and uninspiring magnolia, which emphasised the scruffy marks of dirt that were forming in a dark smudgy band near the floor. On one wall an impressionist art print of some colourful, but blurry flowers hung at an awkward angle. The furniture was spartan, just a small rectangular table, laminated to barely a memory of its days in the forest, and a couple of scuffed black plastic chairs.
“We have received a report from our seers,” Wesley began. “It seems we might have a problem.”
“What has Spike done now?” Angel settled uncomfortably into one of the chairs as Wesley politely offered the other to Fred.
“Nothing as yet,” Wesley replied. “I had a visit from Eve earlier. She suggested that the Spike we rescued might not be the real Spike at all.”
“What?” Fred was stunned; she glanced at Angel for an explanation, but his expression was unreadable. “I don’t believe that. He saved my life!”
“Wes, I know Spike.” Angel shook his head. “No one else could be that annoying.”
Wesley smiled a little. "Angel, the Spike you knew is dead. He died closing the Hellmouth. What we have now is purely a facsimile that thinks and feels like the original, but it's not. This copy was somehow combined with the First Evil when it was defeated. Their essences, for want of a better term, have been fused together until they are one and the same being."
Fred looked uneasy. "And now he's corporeal."
"And even more dangerous." Wesley added.
Angel stood up and started to pace. "He's gone for Buffy."
"She would seem to be his objective, yes." Wesley agreed. "Her sacrifice will open the Deeper Well."
“What’s that?” Angel asked.
“It’s a burial ground. A final resting place for the Old Ones.”
“The Old Ones? Who are they?” Fred asked.
“The original demons,” Angel told her tightly. “But they were driven out, Wes.”
“Yes, they were. However, many were killed in their endless warring. They were placed into the Deeper Well and guarded. Yet the sacrifice of a Slayer, accompanied by the correct rituals on the correct date, could be enough to re-awaken them and bring forth a new Demon Age. I’ve done some research. The Deeper Well is in England. The Cotswolds to be precise, and the equinox is next week. Angel, we don’t have long.”
“So it’s apocalypse time, huh?” said Fred. She looked thoughtful.
“I knew I couldn’t trust this to Spike,” Angel grumbled.
"Angel," Wesley said, levelly. "You have to understand. This isn't Spike we’re dealing with; this is the original evil itself."
“And you believe Eve?” Fred asked.
“I don’t believe she has any reason to lie – this time,” Wesley conceded. “I have read the seer’s report. The visions are very convincing. Apparently, the Senior Partners want us to deal with the First Evil once and for all.”
“Like that will work out well,” Angel humphed. “What so you think, Wes? It’s your call.”
Wesley considered his next words carefully. “I think our purpose here is the same, the First Evil threatens the balance and not even the Senior Partners want that. I don’t see that we have much choice in the matter.”
"Okay, I’m done here. We have to get to England.” Angel took charge. “But first we have to warn Giles. Maybe he knows where Buffy is. Wes. Look into ways we can stop this. Fred. See if you can trace Giles.” He paused for effect then added dramatically, “The First Evil has just been upgraded with a body."
Previous parts are here.
Betas this time were: calove, hesadevil and myfeetshowit.